The Washington State Court of Appeals has agreed to review whether a Benton County judge could take back a Kennewick murder suspect’s guilty plea.
Matthew H. de Vore, 40, is accused of stabbing Thomas R. Christian Sr., 45, in the chest with an 8-inch kitchen knife on Nov. 24 in the lobby of Kennewick’s Biomat USA.
De Vore tried to plead guilty after prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder. But Benton County prosecutor Andy Miller objected unless de Vore admitted to an amended charge of first-degree murder.
Judge Cameron Mitchell initially ruled that prosecutors could not amend the charge after de Vore admitted he intended to kill Christian. But a week later Mitchell overturned the decision, saying it was incorrect and case law allows prosecutors to amend the charge.
Prosecutors initially filed the second-degree murder charge based on the information they had from police reports and a judgment of what charge could sustain a conviction. But Miller had said at a press conference that prosecutors were working with police to see if there was enough evidence for a first-degree murder charge.
The case has been on hold since January over the issue of a what time a plea becomes official.
“There was frustration on my end when my client wanted to take responsibility at the first opportunity,” said defense attorney Scott Johnson.
The decision by the Court of Appeals to review the lower court’s decision means the defense is one step closer to de Vore “being allowed to do what he should have been allowed to do months ago,” Johnson said.
Johnson has argued that the change in charges after de Vore said he pleaded guilty destroyed his client’s right to remain silent and tainted a potential jury pool.
The decision substantially altered the status quo by subjecting de Vore to a first-degree murder charge instead of a sentence on a second-degree murder conviction, said appeals-court Commissioner Monica Wasson of Spokane in her notice that the request for a review was granted.
Miller has argued that Mitchell was correct to allow the amended murder charge. De Vore’s guilty plea was not a fully executed guilty plea because de Vore did not acknowledge intent to kill Christian, he has said.
“At no time did Mr. de Vore ever take responsibility,” Miller said Friday. “He never told the court that he intended to kill the victim. That is the crux of why Judge Mitchell made the right decision.”